Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. One of the most exciting novels you’ll ever read: a dazzling, ingenious, visionary exploration of the theme of eternal recurrence, told through six genre-bending novellas. It’s much better than the movie and gets richer with re-readings.
The Maddaddam Trilogy, by Margaret Atwood. Three visionary novels that extrapolate from present-day perils—climate change, genetic engineering, the commodification of everything—to produce a chilling but ultimately hopeful picture of a post-apocalyptic future.
Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher. This riotous but ultimately touching academic satire is written in the form of recommendation letters. I recommend it enthusiastically and without any reservations whatsoever. The sequel, The Shakespeare Requirement, is also well worth reading.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. The sharply funny voice of Rosemary Cooke grips us in this story of an unusual family—parents and three children, one of whom is a chimpanzee. The novel raises important questions about the blurry lines between humans and other animals.
Best Boy, by Eli Gottlieb. Days in the life of Todd Aaron, and adult on the autism spectrum, told by Todd himself. A truthful, compassionate, moving depiction of ability, disability, and unexpected wisdom.
The Ends of the World, by Peter Brannen. Elegantly summarizes the causes of earth’s five great extinctions. This eye-opening history boggles the mind with the strange and wonderful beings that lived on this planet and the devastating geophysical changes the globe has undergone. A sobering fact: all five extinctions were brought about or exacerbated by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The Overstory, by Richard Powers. In this magnificent, visionary novel, Powers weaves together an epic tale of nine human characters, including a Vietnam vet, a botanist, a disabled video game designer, and a visual artist. But the most important presences in the novel are our non-human neighbors. At once a moving plea to halt the human destruction of our biome, a scientific defense of plant intelligence, and a foray into the ethics of ecological activism, this novel will change your way of thinking about nature. When you finish it, you’ll want to take a long walk in a forest and plant a tree.
The Cold Millions, by Jess Walter
This novel explores a lost period of American history—labor organizing in the Pacific Northwest—and an important but neglected figure in Elizabeth Gurley Flynn—all while supplying a moving, exciting tale of a brotherly bond.
Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell.
Ever wondered about the source of Hamlet? This sensually rich depiction of Shakespeare’s home life not only portrays his children and his wife in gorgeous, powerful detail, but offers a potent biographical explanation for his tragic masterpiece.
The Silence, by Don DeLillo
What if all powered vehicles, appliances and gadgets suddenly stopped working. How would you feel and what would you do? This brief novel by the author of Underworld will haunt you for days.
The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride.
This rollicking tall tale about John Brown and anti-racist activism in pre-Civil War America is related by a young boy who passes as a girl. Sprawling, often hilarious, sporadically violent, this novel takes us on a glorious ride.